Tag Archives: war

“Say Nothing” and “What You Have Heard is True”

New Orleans     Maybe we have gotten lucky and dodged widening the war in the Middle East after what seems like an impulse killing of one of Iran’s top generals and a key spymaster.  The full story is still unknown.  What were the threats that were so heinous that they moved the United States to embark on such a risky tactical strike?  Who was smart and stable enough in both the US and Iran to use the Swiss to send encrypted messages on back channels back and forth insisting that we both sides needed to deescalate?  What kind of weird global political communications system allows Trump to claim to his base, seemingly without any evidence, that he stood up, delivered a blow, and still wants to take America out of wars around the globe, and allowing Iran to throw twenty missiles at us with sufficient warning that no one was killed, even while claiming at home that they took out eighty Americans with these strikes?  This is a dangerous world!

I read two books over around the calendar turn that were extremely powerful expositions and indictments of the violence that we are capable of as people, when it is a matter of boundaries broken and hate and ideology unleashed.  Both of these books concerned civil wars.

One was Say Nothing:  A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Raddan Keefe.  He focused on the period of the “Troubles,” as the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, supporters of England versus those who wanted independence.  The other, What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by poet and professor Carolyn Forche’ looks at her time in El Salvador as a young woman during the civil war that wracked that country for so many years as well.

One of the horrors that emerges in reading these well written and researched books is the recognition that there seem to be no accepted rules in civil wars.  Civilians are not only fair game, but often the primary targets.  Torture and mutilation are as common as unmarked graves.  These were civil wars decades before the dominance of the internet, so often the hate and killing were provoked by generational prejudices, class and land divides and inequities, and simple and unconfirmed rumor, all of which deepens the fear I felt over the dry kindling that continues so easily to be set fire by social media extremists.

Say Nothing is the better history, because the book is based on the coincidence of forthright oral histories held at Boston College that became public on the death of various participants in both the project and the Troubles.  It is hard not to conclude that Gerry Adams, former political leader of the Sinn Fein, is a liar and in any other context a war criminal.  What You Have Heard is True can be annoying in some parts as Forche’ oversells her naivete, but, not surprisingly, beautifully written, as you would expect from a poet.  It is hard not be see the behind the scenes lawyer, mediator, and revolutionary, Leonel Gomez, as an unheralded hero in both the war and the peace in contrast to Adams.

These conflicts turn out to be evergreen even as they fade as a twentieth century memories, but civil wars are bloody reminders that we have to fight for peace to prevent the worst parts of our humanity from constantly resurfacing.

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All Tactics No Strategy:  Duck and Cover!

New Orleans       We saw the tactic swallow the strategy in the Occupy movement.  We just discussed the situation in Hong Kong over the last seven months where the tactics and adaptations have been brilliantly effective, but the strategy for victory is still unknown and perhaps tragically unachievable.  Now on a horrifying daily basis we are force fed the filter-less daily intemperate tactical obsessions and actions of President Trump.  If it scratches, he itches the heck out of it without thinking about what might happen the next minute to him, to us, and certainly not to the rest of the world.

What’s up with this epidemic of tactics devoid of strategy?  Do we blame the immediacy of social media where fingers seem always on the twitter-finger?  Do we point the finger at the hyper-speed of daily life leeched of reflection or second thoughts as eyes and fingers dart like hummingbirds to keep up?  Is our culture now just one big casino of risks trying to best long odds?  What the frick!?!

If street-level organizers working in the vineyards, like me, can see clearly that these global tactics are as disconnected as random moonbeams without a hint of strategic coherence, what are the wizards in Washington and around the world doing to make a living who are paid to both know – and do – better?  Susan Rice, former national security chief under President Obama, doesn’t see this as a lady versus tiger choice, writing an op-ed in the New York Times.  Looking at the options, she everything but says that this was just hip shooting, cowboy stuff without any thought or time allowed to looking at second, third, and fourth level consequences.  We already know that there was no briefing or consultation with Congress and not even a never mind courtesy call to our allies, including those on the firing lines.  Rice seems to conclude that the only real mystery is whether it will be a wider war versus a limited war.  What the frick?!?

Other experts seem to be depending on either luck or prayer.  As the signs on refrigerators often heralded after Katrina, “hope is not a plan!”  Some are even bending over backwards to suggest that Trump is sooo crazy and sooooo erratic, that perhaps Iran is confused about how to best deal with someone so out of control.  Meanwhile he threatens to blow up Iranian culture sites which is a widely recognized and condemned war crime.  We might ask, “what is he thinking,” but we know the heart of the problem is that he is not thinking at all!

Tactics without strategy produces chaos.  The only clear result thus far in Iran seems to be that Trump’s actions have brought the Iranian people and their government together, where there had been protests and unrest only weeks ago.  In other results, this action has divided the world, left the USA without friends or allies, and generally scared the bejesus out of all of us.

This is madness!

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